December 21, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Why deny Russian sabotage now?
Trump's interest isn't clear, but the GOP's is.
Why is the president downplaying the significance of a security breach said to be “on a scale Washington has never experienced,” according to the Times. As a result of a Russian hacking operation dating back to October 2019, Joe Biden will now “inherit a government so laced with electronic tunnels bored by Russian intelligence that it may be months, years even, before he can trust the systems that run much of Washington.”
The Russians not only got into government networks, but also its supply chain, which is vast. That’s why the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said it “poses a grave risk to the federal government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.” That’s why one expert called it “the most consequential cyberespionage campaign in history and the fact that the government is absent is a huge problem.”
The Republican Party’s interest seems rooted in its capacity to look the other way during times of national emergency.
And yet Donald Trump said nothing for days until he said something, which was more of what you’ve come to expect from a man who conspired with the Russians to win the presidency in the first place. “I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control,” Trump tweeted. “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality.” He said the press corps “exaggerated the damage” and “the real issue was whether the election results had been compromised,” per the Times. “There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election,” Trump wrote.
In fact, the breach was like an act of war. US Senator Chris Coons told MSNBC: “It’s pretty hard to distinguish this from an act of aggression that rises to the level of an attack that qualifies as war. … [T]his is as destructive and broad scale an engagement with our military systems, our intelligence systems as has happened in my lifetime.” Biden appears to be preparing some kind of response: “A good defense isn’t enough,” he said, vowing “substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks.”
While reporters look into what that response might be given the damage done to the nation’s security, we should ask why Trump continues to deny Russian sabotage? Denial used to make sense. He feared widespread understanding of his conspiracy with the Russians to win the 2016 election might endanger his chances of being reelected. Denial was in his interest. What’s his interest now in the wake of defeat?
Trump’s might not be clear but the Republican Party’s interest is crystal. With the exception of US Senator Mitt Romney, who has always been a keen Russia critic, no one in the GOP has stepped forward to condemn Russia’s cyber-attack. No one has done what Coons and other Senate Democrats have done, likening the assault to an act of war, promising to support the next commander-in-chief in defending the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They haven’t because saying nothing is in their interest. Saying nothing improves their chances of winning Georgia runoffs needed to keep control of the US Senate. Saying nothing tells Vladimir Putin he can do whatever he wants. Saying nothing puts party over country, power over patriotism.
Indeed, the Republican Party’s interest seems rooted in its capacity to look the other way during times of national emergency. They looked away during the financial panic of 2007-2008, leaving the Democrats to pick up after a Republican administration that wrecked the economy while blaming them for ballooning deficits. They looked away after the Sandy Hook massacre, allowing mass shootings to proliferate while blaming Democrats for trying to take guns away (a lie). They looked away during the 2016 election, allowing the Russians to sabotage Hillary Clinton while blaming the Democrats for “spying” on Trump’s campaign. They looked away as a once-a-century plague killed more Americans than all those who died fighting the Second World War. And they looked away while a defeated president talked about declaring martial law.
What’s Trump’s interest? I don’t have an answer. All I can do is suggest that this latest attack on our sovereignty is a fitting end to a presidency that emerged in the shadow of the Kremlin. All I can do is suggest that small and hard-to-see but nonetheless appreciable acts of war were a feature of Trump’s presidency, not a bug. All I can do is suggest that malicious forces outside our borders have been working in concert and/or in tandem with seditious forces inside our borders to wound our country or worse. All I can do is suggest that the people calling themselves patriots are anything but patriotic.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.